Federalism (1937)

“We are fighting a political war and need a war policy. That policy boils don to discipline and obedience to the Republic’s accountable authorities.

In the rearguard, that spirit of discipline and obedience to the government is as indispensable now as ever. There is no place for private initiatives, even well-meaning ones, as they are doomed to failure.

We must ensure that there are no manifestations of the Spaniard’s spontaneity and feelings of independent, to the detriment of our cause.”

Manuel Azaña
(Presidential address of 23 January 1937)

The spectacle of a head of government announcing “I am fighting a war” has always had something comical about it. Especially when the watchword issued to the country is one of silence and inactivity. “No initiatives! I’ll see to everything!” One might almost expect to see Mr Manuel Azaña challenging General Franco to single combat and the victor of Badajoz exchanging blows with the victor of Casas Viejas as the two armies stand by and watch …

Unfortunately, Mr Azaña, when the attack on Madrid began three months ago, felt it necessary to put as many kilometres as possible between himself and the capital, by devoting himself exclusively to a series of diplomatic journeys. In the meantime, there really did have to be recourse to the feelings of independence and spontaneity of the front-line fighters, and to the private initiatives of the Catalan, Levantine, Andalusian, Asturian and Basque columns and other manifestations of indiscipline and disobedience on the part of Spanish militians and union members towards the “Republic’s accountable authorities”. (In fact, not everybody could follow the prime minister Mr Caballero and Mr Azaña’s rump Parliament down to Valencia).

Moreover, it has to be acknowledged that the absconding of the “authorities” brought about a very notable improvement in the situation.  Up until then, there had been no way of getting Madrid-ers to cooperate seriously in the defence of their own city. Within days, Madrid was covered by a network of trenches and barricades and there was a visible upsurge in volunteer enlistment. Since the disaster in Irun, the Basques had been on the back foot. No sooner had Basque autonomy been proclaimed than they switched to the attack, pressing towards Burgos. From all over, reinforcements and provisions flooded unsolicited into the Madrid sector of the front. And in the martyred city, deserted by the governing authorities, the federalist compact of a New Spain was sealed, a compact that spilled over from Spain’s own borders, in that it involved foreign volunteers from all over the world!  There was an explosion of civic energies. For the very first time, forces of every persuasion, of every origin, of every nationality felt themselves comprehensively united, fully free, fully accountable and were unstinting in their efforts not under the moral aegis of some centralizing government, but under that of libertarian federalism, as embodied by the intrepid Buenaventura Durruti! The atmosphere of war politics or – as Mr Azaña would say – war policy had been replaced by that of Revolution. Since that day, there have been no more “government forces” in Spain, believe me! There are the Fascists on one side and on the other the Federalists.

Federalism is the minimum program of the New Spain, just as Fascism is the salvation and ultimate hope of conservatism.

Falangist rabble-rousing and the rabble-rousing of the Stalinist persuasion imported from Russia have been able to hide their hands by, in the one case, professing some “nationalist” “syndicalism” or, on the other, some bureaucratic “communism”. But nether of them has any lasting claim on the profoundly federalist mentality shared by all of the popular elements in Iberia – whether these be Asturian socialists, Catalan republicans, Aragonese libertarians, Basque traditionalists or even Navarrese Carlists caught up in the wake of Franco the centralizer!

Federalism is the sole guarantee of the Spanish revolution’s unity and survival as it is faced without and within by the threat of drawn out civil war.

Centralism kills off all the nation’s spiritual and material resources for the benefit of just one city, just one apparatus, just one party, and soon, just one person. In the fight for dictatorship, all revolutionary tendencies are exterminated or cowed – except one, which in turn has gone into a decline for want of competition, renewal, adaptation and unfettered criticism.

Federalism is life full and multi-faceted, in all its rich spontaneity; it is the mobilization of all of the latent forces of the individual and society. It is fraternity through freedom. It is he peaceable triumph of experience over prejudice, of boldness over the routine, of free scrutiny over constraint and violence.

In a wholly centralistic context, propaganda by deed is of necessity a recourse to the terrorist’s bomb and dagger.

In a federalist setting, propaganda by deed acts as a tractor, seeder, electric-powered harvester. The clandestine fighting unit turns into an attack column, a free municipality, a people’s athenaeum, model farm or collective workshop.

Republicans, socialists, communists, men of the labouring people, if you need the anarchists by your side, don’t go offering them jobs as flunkeys nor ministerial posts. Quite simply give them federalism!

Writing as A.P. in L’Espagne Nouvelle, (Nîmes) February 15 February 1937.

From Un anarchisme hors norme (a collection of texts by André Prudhommeaux, published by Tumult https://tumult.noblogs.org/post/2020/02/15/un-anarchisme-hors-norme-andre-prudhommeaux/ )

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.